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The EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement: Boosting Trade, Highlighting America’s Isolation

By / 8.9.2018

On July 17, 2018, the European Union and Japan formally signed a landmark agreement on trade. This watershed agreement underscores the strong desire of the EU and Japan to benefit their citizens and economies by aggressively pursuing open, rules-based trade.

When ratified by their respective legislatures, the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) signed in Tokyo by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will create a largely free-trade zone, covering a third of global GDP. The EPA is the largest ever signed by both parties, and reflects shared values that they agree should govern their future trade and economic relations.

The Agreement also sends a clear and forceful message that the parties reject the protectionist policies pursued by the United States under Donald Trump. Negotiation of the deal started long ago (in 2013) and were delayed and extended for political and other reasons, including deadly floods in Japan. Trump’s election—and his growing attacks on open trade—provided new momentum for the negotiations and helped to push them over the finish line.

The EPA’s many benefits come not only from the wide variety of issues that it includes, but also from the creation of an almost completely tariff-free zone[1]. The deal’s extensive reforms will boost import-export trade in a massive market covering more than 600 million people.

The EPA’s starting point is the removal of trade barriers to promote market access for EU goods and services to Japan. Japan is the EU’s second biggest trading partner in the Asian region after China, and boosting EU trade further will support economic growth and jobs. Japan, which already sends 10 percent of its trade to the European zone[2], will similarly benefit from the EPA’s reforms.

Eliminating tariffs is not the only means the EPA uses to achieve its comprehensive objectives. The parties also agreed to pare down the costs of compliance with Japanese rules and standards[3], and to remove Japanese barriers that keep foreign firms from bidding for government contracts in certain sectors. Those two reforms alone will eliminate major obstacles to selling more EU goods and services in the Asian area.

The EPA promotes greater competition[4] for European products in Japan and easier access to Japan’s market, especially for EU agricultural goods, pharmaceuticals, medical devices and motor vehicles. The Agreement’s benefits also extend the service sector, particularly financial services, e-commerce and communications. As a whole, the EPA is forecast to increase EU exports to Japan by some 13,5 billion euros annually.

The accord also makes important changes in the field of data protection. It recognizes the two parties’ data protection systems as “equivalent,” and thereby creates the biggest jointly secured data flow in the world.

This strategic development is the latest in growing foreign opposition to Trump’s nationalism and protectionism, which have sparked a movement by many countries towards negotiating new market-opening agreements. As a result of these new agreements, American companies will increasingly be excluded from favorable trade treatment, illustrating how neglecting open trade and reneging on longstanding policies can be economically damaging on a global level.

Trump’s recent actions have only made things worse for the United States. Two major examples are his recent aluminum and steel taxes, which the international community has widely condemned, and the refusal of the U.S. government to cooperate in re-appointing judges to the Appellate Body in the World Trade Organization[5]––mostly because its members’ decisions did not seem to comply with the U.S. perspectives. These and other actions by the Trump Administration illustrate the perils of limiting trade, closing borders and refusing to cooperate in the multi-lateral system, embodied by the WTO.

While the overall impact of the EU-Japan Agreement may not be immediately visible, its political weight is. Both parties are, most importantly, emphasizing a strong message of shared democratic values and respect for the rule of law at an especially precarious moment in global affairs. In particular, they are underlining the substantial importance of cooperation in trade. By contrast, Trump’s zero-sum protectionism is blinding him to the economic damage his misguided policies are causing for the United States, which is careening toward isolation while the rest of the world is heading steadily towards shared prosperity.

[1] Starting from 90% at the beginning of the implementation of the Agreement, and gradually increasing up to 97%.

[2] According to the European Commission data, EU firms export roughly over €58 billion of goods and €28 billion of services to Japan exclusively every year.

[3] These obstacles make it 10-30% more expensive to export to Japan.

[4] For example, there will be zero tariffs on processed pork, and an elimination of the ones on cheese (currently 29.8%) and on wine (currently 15%).

[5] The WTO system provides a legal forum in Geneva for states in order to file complaints against other members, for alleged violations of WTO law. A three-member arbitration panel can hear each appeal and issues its decision, with the possibility of appeal to the WTO’s Appellate Body, a seven-member independent court that makes the final decision on the meaning of WTO law and its application.